Everything I wish I knew before buying an air jacket

It's been at the back of my mind for a while now that we really ought to try riding with an Air Jacket, slowly but surely it seems that more and more riders are choosing to wear one…the more I see them the more inclined I am to try one, although I must admit its taken a while to tempt me.

If we're talking from a fashion/style perspective, then its easy to turn an air jacket down in favour of showing off your show jacket or show shirt…after all show jackets are often an investment themselves…why cover it up?!

But there's no denying that the times when I see an unfortunate fall or accident, it becomes a stark reminder that the vain voice in the back of my head really shouldn'toverrule a safety aspect.

Accidents are accidents for a reason, we don't plan them, and sometimes can't prevent them, but we can try to limit the danger and damage they may cause. This was my thought when we decided to look into the air jackets, I didn't want to be further down the line and 'wish id bought one' if for any reason we did have an accident fall, it made more sense to get ahead of the game and take the plunge now. 

So, because both me and my mum ride- we decided to buy one that fits us both and share it,  test it and see what we think and if we feel they're worth the investments, how they perform and what the crack is (we've done the experimenting for you.)

Which size?

It may be naive of me, but I didn't realise that there were multiple size options for most air jackets, meaning you can find one that suits you just right.

The right fit is really important for reaching low enough down your spine, luckily most websites have a handy size guide that is really worthwhile checking before you buy (if you buy online!) and most stores will be able to advise if you're buying in store. 

Size options test: passed

Too hot?

One of my bug bears is being too hot or restricted when riding, we know I'm the type of person who would rather ride at 6am than in the warm temperatures just to avoid getting too hot. So the idea of this being an EXTRA layer in the summer did put me off.

Since buying it, I decided I ought to test this and see how much of a difference it really makes, and if I'd get too hot.

In the name of 'putting it to the test' I schooled Jack for 45minutes at home during 27-28 degree heat on Tuesday- we don't test things by halves! And since the we've competed during the August summertime.

I was pretty surprised by how quickly I forgot I was wearing the Helite. It perhaps also helped that the Helite I wear is one I share with my mum, so is a size bigger than my usual- whilst it's a little roomy, itallows for plenty of airflow which I've found to be a hidden bonus for the summer months - definitely consider this when choosing your size!

Heat wise, I did feel a bit hotter than usual when competing in the air jacket, spending all day in it you tend to be able to test it pretty thoroughly during the August heat. This being said, I wasn't uncomfortably hot, there was only a small increase in how hot I felt when competing in the air jacket compared to competing without- after all it is an extra layer of clothing - similar to wearing your show jacket.

That being said, it wasn't significant enough for me to stress over it, and it didn't bother me - I have been quite happy competing in it the summer so far.

Heat test: passed 

 Let's talk about the elephant in the room….fashion.

Whilst we all want to be 100% logical and not vain at all, there's no shame in enjoying your competition and equestrian wear- I personally love wearing coloured jackets or show shirts and pulling an outfit together to compete in.

So naturally, an air jacket did put me off at first, it's not ideal to buy all of these clothes to the cover them up with a safety feature like an air jacket.

For me,this has been one of the biggest reasons I've put off wearing an air jacket (I know, I secretly want to scream at myself for being so silly) but the fact is that if they were invisible, I believe a lot more people would gladly wear them, it's purely the look that made me second guess purchasing one.

As time has gone on, I've been consciously talking myself in to trying an air jacket and the one sentiment that a lot of riders share is this…

A doctor, a nurse, a paramedic, first aider or a surgeon does not care about your riding outfit by the time an accident or injury happens. It's too late and the priorities have shifted far beyond fashion by that point. Ask yourself, if for any reason you get injured or hurt, would your outfit still be your main priority?

This nagging thought in the back of my head was when all is said and done, it's a lot better to wear it and crack on, than be at a greater risk of injury for the sake of 'looking good' as an excuse for not wearing an air jacket.

It's been a mental block, one that I've now put aside and have moved on from. To be fair, it doesn't bother me that much any more, you can still see my show shirt or show jacket under the air jacket, and there are so many new jacket and accessories now launching that make them more wearable and camera ready. (More on this later!)

How out works - in a nutshell

The air jacket is worn over your normal clothes, and has a CO2 cartridge attached inside- this is connected to a lanyard strap that you then connect via a strap to your saddle.

When you fall off, that lanyard strap is pulled and triggers the CO2 canister to release and fill the air chamber in the air jacket- filling the full jacket with air, helping to absorb shock and impact from your fall. 

Let's talk sound effects and what happens when your air vest inflates.

When we bought an air jacket, they demonstrated what happens when you 'fall off' and it inflates…and I was in two minds about it.

The sound

It makes a quick yet strong 'whoosh' sound, this sound is the CO2 cartridge releasing air and the jacket inflating - it only lasts milliseconds but is a big noise if you're not expecting it. (Read further down to find out what our 6yo 'Archie' did when one inflated next to him.)

The inflation

The impact is also pretty significant, you feel it inflating andI couldn't believe how quick the inflation is. The air jacket we bought is a zip in 2 in one, and is designed to go over your clothing, never under- this is so that the jacket can inflate correctly, if its under any clothing it's that powerful that its likely to burst the seams of anything you're wearing over the top (due to how fast and powerfully it inflates)

Fast inflation is a key safety feature to protect you if you do fall off, when the air jacket does inflate it absorbs shock and stabilises the body from head to tailbone- helping top protect you from your fall before you hit the ground. 

Our experience so far

As I mentioned above, both myself and my mum ride so we chose to buy one that we can both ride in and test, we were a little reserved with our judgement so it felt silly to buy one each whilst we decided if we liked them. Luckily we're a similar size,so sharing isn't problem as long as we ride at seperate times.

The incident....

Whilst clipping the lanyard in the air jacket onto the saddle every time you get on is important, it's also very important to remember to unclip it before you get off.

My horse Jack had to be lead into there arena on foot last week at a show, and luckily in the spur of the moment I did remember to unclip, get off, lead him in whilst he was being nappy, then get back on in the ring, clip back on and jump our round.

My mum however, jumped a super round on her horse Archie (he's 6 years old and known for his exuberant personality)…in her good mood, she leapt off the side of him, only for her air jacket to go BANG and shock her and everyone around us. -Archie did not move a muscle and stood perfectly still whilst my mum blew up like a bouncy castle next to him. Nice one mum. 

I was pleasantly surprised by just how calm he was, there was no panic or worry about the sound, this was one of my main concerns when we bought it- how would the horses cope with the sound if it inflates? It's put my mind at rest knowing that none of the horses there at the show were upset or spooked by it.

Shoutout to my mum and Archie for taking one for the team and testing the feature out for us (albeit unplanned!)

 Final thoughts

My reason for taking the plunge came from a safety perspective, we often overlook just how dangerous our sport can be at times. Whilst these risks can't always be avoided, wearing an air jacket can help to minimise the effects and possible injuries - something that we often only value when an accident does happen. For me, wearing an air jacket feels like a pro active step towards a safer ride.

It's been a few weeks of riding in the air jacket so far, and I don't think I'll be going back to riding without one. It's so easy to wear, easy to use, doesn't restrict movement or cause any problems, I feel confident knowing that it would help protect me if I do fall off, and having that piece of mind really does count for a lot. Fashion wise, I don't find it too problematic, whilst it is obvious I don't think its a problem for me- I may have a look at some of the alternative zip in pieces that other brands make to  go with it too in the meantime just incase though!

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